Fairbanks students celebrate completion of BRIDGE and Project Search programs

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Ten students in the BRIDGE and Project Search programs in Fairbanks are taking the next step toward independence this year.

Qualifying students can participate in the programs until the age of 21 or 22, depending on their birthday. (Photo courtesy of Fairbanks North Star Borough School District)

BRIDGE is a four-year program for qualifying special education students who are not seeking a diploma. Project Search is a one-year program, and students in that program may seek a diploma.

The goal of the two programs is to provide qualifying students with job skills and opportunities for increased independence.

While in previous years a celebration would be held to mark the occasion, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic other ways have been found to honor those completing the program.

Lori Swanson, administrator for BRIDGE and Project Search, created a video slideshow for each of the programs congratulating outgoing students (seven from Project Search, three from BRIDGE) on their successful completions.

I think we do a really good job of fostering confidence and some independence for many of the students,” Swanson said.

Lisa Laqua, a teacher with Project Search, prepared a yearbook for her students. In addition to receiving a certificate of completion, the yearbook highlights the jobs they’ve worked during their tenure with the program.

“I had a young man this year who verbalized that he really wanted that independence. He wanted to do things on his own, and so I had to push for folks to allow him to just go off and do it, and prove to himself and to everyone else around him that he has capable. So the success that we see when we give them that opportunity is tremendous,” she said.

Project Search works with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to find employment for students who are reaching the end of their time with the program.

To gain job skills and experience, students in the BRIDGE program work at numerous places around town, including the University Recreation Center, Holiday stores, Fort Wainwright, Joann Fabrics, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Roberta Milles, a teacher at BRIDGE, has particularly enjoyed watching her students build confidence through participation in the program.
“This is the stepping stone that all students look forward to as they complete their school year, and each student has grown in different ways," Milles said.

Robin Wong, a teacher in her first year with BRIDGE, found especially helpful the support the program received. She said, “What was really tremendous to see was the community support that our students got from all our partners,” she said, adding, ““Both of these programs are only possible because of the support of the different businesses within the community.”

Wong said participation in the program shows students who have had difficulties how much they’re capable of doing for the community. “It was tremendous to see the growth of every single student that participated in the BRIDGE Program this year.”

The video slideshows can be found below.

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